How to reduce the high level of salt and sugar in your ‘healthy’ packed lunch

As busy parents we often select our family’s lunch box contents on the basis of convenience. We don’t always have time to read every single label to check nutritional values. However, if we allow our decisions to be made on the basis of cost or simplicity, we are compromising our family’s health. Although my job centres on healthy living and fitness, I am not a nutrition expert. I just care deeply about the wellbeing of my family and the values that are important to me, including healthy living. In our house we are very careful about what we eat at family mealtimes and we always sit down together. So why don’t we pay as much attention to what we pack up for the next day? We must be able to reach a compromise which delivers affordable, healthy, tasty and convenient lunch boxes. I have decided to work on the basis of the following principles:

  • You are not ‘what you eat’; you are ‘what you absorb’. We eat food because it is delicious and because we are hungry. Above all we eat to nourish our bodies. If what we are eating isn’t full of nutrients, then it’s probably just wasted calories.
  • Ditch the wrappers. It’s easy to buy pre-wrapped portions to slip into lunchboxes and it’s difficult to find healthy options that will last out of the fridge until lunchtime. However, eating food that is fresh is much better than eating convenience food that is high in salt, saturated fat and sugar and lacking in fibre.
  • Follow guidelines. Take notice of the  recommended daily amount (RDA) guidelines and pay attention to food labelling.

The recommended daily calories for an active 7 year old boy are 1650.

The recommended daily amount of salt for children is 3g and 6g for those 11 and over.

The recommended daily amount of sugar for children is 19g and 30g for those 11 and over.


what’s in your lunchbox? Over the coming months I want to explore some simple, affordable, healthy and attractive options. To start with, I have looked at a standard lunchbox to see where I need to make improvements.

White Bread. White bread is made from refined flour rather than whole wheat. When grain is refined, it has fibre and some of the protein removed, leaving the starch. It looks nice and fluffy, but has little nutritional value and is likely to be full of preservatives. Because the fibre and protein are removed and it contains quickly digestible sugars, it causes blood sugar spikes and irritability. The sugar spike is likely to be stored as fat in the body and the subsequent sugar crash will result in snack cravings.

Processed Meat. Processed meat is any kind of meat that has been smoked, salted, cured, dried or canned. This includes salami, ham, bacon, sausages and hot dogs. Sodium Nitrate is added to processed meat products to preserve the colour, improve the flavour and prevent the growth of bacteria. Studies have shown that nitrosamines (formed from Sodium Nitrate) increase the risk of cancer. Processed meat also contains high levels of Sodium Chloride (salt).

Pesto. A recent report covered by the BBC has highlighted that Pesto contains more salt than a McDonalds hamburger.

Cereal Bars. Cereal Bars advertised as healthy due to their high content of wholegrain and vitamin and minerals can contain more than 40% sugar. Whilst some of this is good naturally occurring sugar due to ingredients such as fruit, some may be added by the manufacturer.

Olives. Olives contain healthy unsaturated fats, but they are cured and fermented to remove the bitter compounds. This means they are very salty.

Juice boxes. Drinking a bottle of fruit juice or a smoothie is definitely better than having a fizzy drink as there is no caffeine or added salt. However, they contain unacceptably high levels of sugar. The high fruit content delivers sugar to the body in the form of fructose. Fructose overloads the liver and can cause high blood pressure and insulin levels. It is better to get sugar direct from fruit so that you get the benefits of the fibre.

Cheese Crackers. Mini Cheddars are baked, not fried, and contain no artificial colours or flavours. However, they are higher in saturated fat (3g) than almost all crisps (apart from pringles).

Fruit Roll Ups. These snacks seem healthy and are probably better than haribo, but in reality are just empty calories. The refined carbohydrates come from corn syrup and sugar and lack vitamins (other than those added), minerals and other nutrients.

You will note that I haven’t written any suggestions for alternatives yet. That is where you come in. Please comment with your ideas or get in touch with me on twitter:

I’ll compile the best and do some more research and post the results and hopefully together we can make a positive change.

One comment

  1. Boiled egg (large) – 5.3g fat, 0.6g carbohydrates, 6.3g protein, 78 calories. Also has 25 milligrams of calcium and various other essentials vitamins. Great for refueling your body. With two slices of Hovis seed sensations granary (medium) bread and a bit of spread the total is 230 calories. A great sandwich!

    Liked by 1 person

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